Car Rental Company Found Not Liable in Fatal Car Crash

The Illinois Appellate Court has found that a rental car company, Enterprise Leasing, and the driver who rented the vehicle from it are not liable for a deadly drunken driving incident involving the rental car and the driver who was not the customer.

The Illinois First District Appellate Court dismissed the lawsuit filed by the estate of Laura Linderborg against Enterprise and David Soto, finding that they could not have foreseen the accident that eventually killed Laura Linderborg.

On April 2, 2012, David Soto rented a 2012 Nissan Altima from Enterprise. He parked the car at the house of his boss, Katrina Scimone, and left the keys there. Scimone’s boyfriend, Jesse Medina, took the car and drove it while he was drunk. Later that day he was involved in a fatal crash in Burbank, Ill., after colliding with Laura Linderborg’s car, killing himself and Linderborg, who survived for a while but died two months later from her injuries. Her medical bills totaled $1.34 million.

Linderborg’s family, represented by her cousin Kathleen Rogers, also sued Medina’s estate, Scimone, Buffalo Wild Wings, where Medina allegedly drank that night, and Enterprise.

The dismissal of Soto and Enterprise essentially prevented the estate from being able to recover any compensation for the death of Linderborg.

The Linderborg family settled its lawsuit with Buffalo Wild Wings, but neither Medina nor Scimone had automobile insurance at the time of the incident and they did not have much in the way of recoverable assets.

The law is clear that in order to hold Enterprise liable for the death of Linderborg, the family had to prove that Enterprise gave Medina express or implicit permission to drive the car that Soto had rented and that it knew Medina was an incompetent or unfit driver, which was the proximate cause of Linderborg’s injuries and her subsequent death.

At the trial court level, the estate argued that Soto and Enterprise negligently entrusted the car to Scimone. Scimone did not have a driver’s license at the time. Scimone and Soto should have known that Scimone would have handed over the car keys to Medina who would have then driven the car while intoxicated.

Both Soto and Enterprise moved the court to dismiss the estate’s lawsuit. Enterprise said it had not rented the car to Medina and therefore, it had no way of knowing he would drive it, especially as he was drunk.

Soto argued that he did not entrust the car to Medina and at most he entrusted it to Scimone. He also contended that Medina’s drunken driving that night was not foreseeable to him as a matter of law.

Soto testified at deposition that he never told Enterprise another person would be driving the car that he rented. Before his rental agreement expired on April 9, 2012, he said Scimone extended the term of the lease for him and paid for it.

Soto said he was surprised to see the Nissan was gone when he arrived at Scimone’s house on April 10.  Scimone told him Medina took the car. Soto said he didn’t know Medina personally, never gave him permission to drive the car and didn’t know his past driving history.

The trial judge eventually granted the motions by Soto and Enterprise to dismiss the complaint against them finding the estate could not establish “cause in fact” and proximate cause that Enterprise and Soto were liable for the accident.

On appeal, the Linderborg family maintained Enterprise and Soto should have foreseen that Scimone would have loaned the car to Medina.

The appeals panel said the estate continually raised the issue of Soto entrusting the car to Scimone, who did not have a license. This is a “red herring” because, even if the estate could establish this, it had nothing to do with the fact that Medina drove that night while drunk.

Further, the appellate court rejected the estate’s contention that its motion for additional discovery was unfairly dismissed by the trial judge. The panel faulted the estate for not providing an adequate record to review the issue and for not adequately presenting it on appeal.

The attorney representing the Linderborg family, Daniel E. O’Brien, said in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin report of the case that he intended to pursue an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.  The Linderborg family argued that Enterprise should be held at fault because it failed to live up to its own policies such as accepting payment for the rental from an unlicensed driver, Katrina Scimone. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit against Enterprise and David Soto.

Kathleen Rogers, et al. v. Enterprise Leasing Company of Chicago, et al., 2016 IL App (1st) 143854-U.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling car accident cases, wrongful death cases, truck accident cases and bicycle accident cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including, Oak Park, Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Hinsdale, Western Springs, St. Charles, Yorkfield, Harvey, Worth, Calumet City, Tinley Park, Bensenville, Chicago (Midway, Marquette Park, Englewood, Washington Heights, Roseland, Pullman, Lake Calumet, South Shore, Hyde Park, Bronzeville, Chinatown), Elmwood Park and Park Ridge, Ill.

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